On a gloomy night in London, while Hitler's bombs rained down from the sky, John Lennon was born. An infant of war, Lennon would turn out to be a symbol of peace to the entire world. His father left him for the sea and his mother was taken from him in a car crash. However, he had music inside of him, and with this music he built a new family, a family which still endures and still cultivates the lives of many. He journeyed the earth, singing "come together" and "all you need is love." He journeyed to India to study harmony in the land of Gandhi. He gave an anthem to the peace movement when he sang "All we are saying is give peace a chance" (Give Peace a Chance, 1969). But more importantly, he gave the world vision and dreams when he sang "Imagine" (1970).
This discussion will highlight the points in Lennon’s career that transformed him into one of the most recognized figures of our Western culture. With his influences from Eastern cultures, he incorporated many aspects of this into his music and created a double ideology that can still be seen today. Various aspects of Lennon’s career will be analyzed in order to realize the type of person he was, and how he has influenced our culture at present. In the concluding section, a much deeper analysis will be conducted noting the importance of Lennon’s impact through his music, art and mind.
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The Career of a Genius
Mainly well-known as one of the members of the Beatles as well as the co-composer of the Beatles song catalogue which included many of the most admired rock songs ever written, John Lennon is also distinguished for his solo career, with his continuing status as a celebrity persecuted by one of his own fans, shot dead outside his New York City home, and as a celebrity who used his fame to draw awareness to various peaceful causes (Coleman, 1992).
Lennon was born in Liverpool, raised in a middle class home that lacked a father and also a mother as well; Lennon was for the most part raised by his aunt Mimi, who warned him that while playing his guitar was fine, it was unlikely that he would learn a living from it (Coleman, 1992). He attended an art school where he produced a small group, the Quarrymen, which would later shape the foundation for the Beatles (Conord, 1994).
Lennon was the original leader of the Beatles and their most controversial component. At the 1963 Royal Command Performance, he said to the audience, "On the next number, would those in the cheap seats clap their hands and the rest of you rattle your jewelry." Upon being awarded the MBE, Lennon observed, "I can't believe it. I thought you had to drive tanks and win wars" (Conord, 1994). He provoked even more argument when on November 25, 1969, he returned his MBE "with love" to the Queen to object to Britain's involvement in Vietnam and his song "Cold Turkey" slid down the charts (Green, 1989).
In 1966, Lennon told Maureen Cleave in the London Evening Standard, "The Beatles are bigger than Jesus Christ," provoking a religious repercussion in the United States (Coleman, 1992). A similar British reaction was created when Lennon appeared naked on the cover of his Two Virgins album. An exhibition of Lennon's erotic lithographs had to have eight prints removed under threat of possible prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act. However, they were later declared "unlikely to deprave or corrupt" by legal experts and handed back (Conord, 1994).
In addition to music and art, Lennon also experimented with literature. Lennon wrote his first book, “In His Own Write”, which subsequently won a Foyle's Literary Prize. This was followed by “A Spaniard in the Works”. In addition to his film work with the Beatles (Help!, A Hard Day's Night, Let It Be), Lennon had a small role in Richard Lester's illogical black comedy “How I Won the War” (Davies, 1968). He was also the focus of the documentary film Imagine.
Lennon also formed his first post-Beatles group, the Plastic Ono Band, which originally consisted of himself, Ono, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, and Alan White, who threw together an under rehearsed show for a live concert in Toronto which was recorded as an album and film. Lennon's next Plastic Ono Band effort, Plastic Ono Band with Voorman on bass, Ringo Starr on drums, and occasional piano by Billy Preston and Phil Spector, is one of rock's all-time classic albums (Conord, 1994). Sparse and powerful, the album was an outgrowth of Lennon's involvement in primal scream therapy techniques as he tries to exorcise his personal pain and rejection tempered by feelings of love and hope (Henke, 2003).
Paradoxically, following the break-up of the Beatles, even Ringo Starr initially had greater chart success than Lennon (Green, 1989). If Plastic Ono Band evoked Lennon's agony, his “Imagine” album celebrated his delight, and proved to be another classic. This was the most melodic of Lennon's solo albums, a quality he would downplay subsequently as his peace expressions gave way to political statements as on his rasping “Some Time in New York City” album (Henke, 2003). Lennon decided to move to the United States, but Lennon's political activities brought him under examination by the FBI and he was ordered to leave the U.S. by the Immigration establishment (Coleman, 1992). Lennon was able to productively fight the deportation, and in January 1974, he asked the Queen for a Royal Pardon in connection with his drug conviction in order to be free to journey to and from the United States (Green, 1989).
Nevertheless, Lennon's dedication as an artist has left a lasting feeling, from his commitment to political causes to his celebrated love for Yoko Ono in the face of public hostility and contempt (Seaman, 1991). His solo music has been frequently repackaged, his demo tapes and home recordings formed the basis of a long-running radio show, "The Lost Lennon Tapes," a couple of these recordings formed the basis for the two Beatles reunion singles, "Real Love" and "Free As a Bird," and many of these pieces were collected together for release in late 1998 as the Lennon Anthology album (Seaman, 1991). They offer a complete portrait of Lennon, from his pleasure to his misery, his irritation and his wit.
Lennon came to the conclusion years ago that what most people around him were most attracted to, was Lennon himself, and few artists have put so much of themselves into their talent so that he and his love for Yoko became his celebrated subjects (Henke, 2003).
The Influence of a Soul
The feelings that John Lennon spoke of grew more and more personal, striking a receptive chord in the fans that followed him; some commented that the experience was like group therapy (Aquila, 1985). Following Lennon's tune "all you need is love," a whole new generation loosened the bonds with their parents and turned to their peers as relatives. With colleague Beatle Paul McCartney, John wrote "I am the Walrus" (1967), which began with the association with LSD, "I am he as you are he," and led to the sixties collective ideal "we are all together." From Berlin to Paris, from New York to Sydney, John wandered with his three fellow Beatles, singing and living a meaning of honesty and peacefulness. Lennon and McCartney’s "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (1967)" about "flowers that grow so incredibly high" was said to present a pleasant image for a central chapter in the history of youth culture: flower power and psychedelia (Weiner, 1984).
"And in the end," he sang, "the love you take is equal to the love you make" ("The End", 1969). The end for this man of peace came by a gun in the hand of a criminal. Nevertheless John Lennon is greater in death even than he was in life. In life, John Lennon was a rock star. In death, he was to become a myth. The young people who were his original disciples are no longer young, but are still devoted to him. Now they are joined by their children and grandchildren: Lennon has become a voice that speaks to all generations. The man who was born in hostility and died in violence became a principal representation of peace.
We can see the power of indifference and re-initiation in Lennon's music which is only granted to us at a sanctified time. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether the reason a person becomes a hero or heroine is that they create a new distinctiveness for their generation or that they represent the collective ideals of their society. Perhaps we can say that a commendable figure is the one who listens to his own needs and those of his generation and has the gift to respond to these needs by his talent and flair. John Lennon is just the one who was gifted in converting his private pain and struggle into a public voice (Wiener, 1984), thus he gave his society a meaning to live by, and a dream to pursue.
Legacy: A Cultural Influence
To an age group of baby boomers, John Lennon was at the head of their culture. His music and way of life changed the way a generation reflected, dressed and felt about drugs, sex and political opinions. Future generations revealed the Beatles and John Lennon in the years after his death (Green, 1989). Today, almost every musical artist regardless of type is familiar with and partial in some way by the music of John Lennon and the Beatles.
Possibly the aspect of Lennon's music that makes it so long lasting and influential is its sincerity (Green, 1989). John was not afraid to confront his own demons, writing about the passing away of his mother, his painful removal from heroin, his irritation, his love and his wish for a better world. He was genuine, and the approaches raised by his music remain real today.
Now, around 25 years after his death, the influence of John Lennon remains powerful. The world will never know what route Lennon may have taken had he lived further than December 8, 1980. Although in the 40 short years he was on this world, Lennon gave the world music that made it think and feel and changed the way millions of people look at the world. Very few people have had as strong of a legacy as he.
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Conord, Bruce W. John Lennon. USA: Main Line Book Co., 1994.
Davies, Hunter. The Beatles. Harper Collins, 1968.
Du Noyer, Paul "We All Shine on: The Stories Behind Every John Lennon Song: 1970-1980." Harperperennial Library, 1997.
Green, John "Dakota Days." St Martins Mass Market Paper, 1989.
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Norman, Philip. SHOUT!. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981
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